A decorated Army Ranger, Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive tackle, National Football League Pro Bowler and noted humanitarian, Alejandro Villanueva will be the principal speaker at the 173rd annual commencement of Saint Vincent College. More than 340 undergraduate and graduate degrees will be awarded at the Saturday, May 11, ceremony, which begins at 11 a.m. in the Robert S. Carey Student Center.
Best known for his performance as a Pittsburgh Steeler at Heinz Field, where he protects quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and opens running lanes for James Conner, Villanueva carved a unique path to the National Football League, one that allows him to give back to those who provided him and countless others the opportunity to pursue their American dreams.
Villanueva was raised in Rhode Island, Spain and Belgium by his mother, Matilde, and father, Ignacio, a Spanish Naval Officer. A graduate of SHAPE High School in Casteau (Belgium), Villanueva attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he starred both on the gridiron and in the classroom before graduating in 2010, at which time he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Upon graduating, Villanueva served three tours of duty in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Serving as an Army Ranger, he was a rifle platoon leader of the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade combat team, before earning a promotion to captain in 2014. Upon returning from deployment, he was reassigned as a company executive officer. He earned numerous honors for his service, including a Bronze Star Medal for valor for rescuing wounded soldiers from enemy fire. He was also awarded the Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge, Bronze Star Medal for Overseas Service, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Expert Infantryman’s Badge.
In August 2014, Villanueva was signed to a contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After spending a year on the practice squad learning a new position and getting reacclimated to the game, he received substantial playing time at offensive tackle throughout the 2015 season. In 2016, he was thrust into a starting role and would thrive, starting every game in helping the Steelers to a playoff berth.
He has remained a full-time starter in each of the past two seasons, and following a stellar 2017 campaign, he became the first service academy alum to make the Pro Bowl since Navy’s Roger Staubach in 1979, and the first United States Military Academy graduate selected since Glenn Davis in 1951. He would go on to repeat as a Pro Bowl selection following the recently-completed 2018 season.
Villanueva has spoken often about the importance of his Catholic faith in reaching out to help others, and in addition to his decorated military and football careers, has remained a steadfast advocate and supporter for his fellow veterans and service members. In 2017, he was a finalist for the prestigious United States Automotive Association (USAA) Salute to Service Award, which recognizes the efforts of NFL coaches and players to honor and support members of the military community.
Through the Steelers’ Social Justice Grant program, Villanueva gives his time to many worthy causes, including the Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard. Through Veterans Place, he has aided in the process of delivering and furnishing townhouse properties where veterans live to provide them with a boost and comforts as they battle personal struggles. He also regularly visits patients at the Pittsburgh VA hospital, and participates in community events to honor veterans, including “Heroes at Heinz Field,” in which veterans participate in football drills on the Steelers’ home turf.
He has donated proceeds from the royalties of the sales of his No. 78 Steelers jersey to various charities in Pittsburgh, as well as in the communities of the Steelers’ three other divisional foes, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore, benefiting school systems and area police officers and first responders.
Villanueva, who earned his degree in systems engineering at West Point, went on to obtain his MBA in 2018 from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.
Villanueva and his wife, Madelyn, have one son and two daughters, and reside in Pittsburgh.